Hedgehogs could dissapear in a decade warn experts
- Credit: Frances Crickmore
With numbers plummeting by more than half since the turn of the millennium, new figures out suggest that the humble hedgehog is disappearing so quickly from the British countryside that it could become extinct within a decade.
So where have the popular but prickly little animals gone?
We Brits love a hedgehog. In 2013 BBC Wildlife magazine asked their readers to choose a national emblem from 10 shortlisted wildlife species. The hedgehog romped home with 42% of the vote. Meanwhile a generation of teenagers grew up square eyed, helping a blue pixelated hedgehog navigate a series of fiery obstacles as the Sonic the Hedgehog series of computer games netted Sega $9 billion.
But whilst we maybe vote for them in polls and play video games with their namesakes, we seem to have neglected the real thing, and life has been getting pretty tricky for them.
It is thought that there were around 30 million hedgehogs wandering the British countryside in the 1950s, today it is believed that number is around half a million. That is a decline not too dissimilar to the tiger.
Martin Horlock, environment manager at Norfolk County Council said: Just like the national numbers suggest, we've seen a definite drop in the numbers of hedgehogs in Norfolk. It's mainly down to a loss of habitat'.
Other suggestions for the drop in numbers include the intensification of agriculture. A loss of hedgerows and a reduction in grassland, both common homes of the mammal may have also contributed to their decline.
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Counting the nocturnal animals is difficult but there have been a number of attempts in recent years.
The website www.bighedgehogmap.org allows visitors to record sightings on an interactive map. Their data shows there have been 21 live hedgehog encounters and two dead ones, reported by their members within the Norwich inner ring road.
Sadly for many of us, the only time we see a hedgehog is when it is dead.
Mr Horlock said: 'Hedgehogs love to move about a lot. They can travel over a mile at night. We have schemes in place where the data we have on biodiversity in the region is fed back into areas like town planning, to try and ensure we can create areas that are beneficial to wildlife too.'
Emily Wilson, Hedgehog Officer for Hedgehog Street, a public action campaign run jointly by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) and People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) thinks Norfolk's farmers could play an important role in helping to preserve the animals in our county, she said: 'Farmers play a vital role in producing food, but they're also well placed to help protect, maintain and enhance our countryside. The Government recently reiterated plans to reform the EU Common Agricultural Policy to reward landowners for delivering environmental benefits. Many farmers already have a sustainable approach to agriculture, and we think there's a great opportunity to work more widely with them to stem the alarming decline of our country hedgehogs.'
It is not just hedgehogs either that are in danger of disappearing.
Populations of nine species, including hazel dormice and even rabbits, have dropped in the last two decades, a study by the Mammal society and Natural England has shown. Meanwhile the water vole population in Britain is thought to be just a tenth of what it was in the 1990s.
The study did show however that there was better news for some species, such as otters, whose numbers have flourished since the banning of pesticides which were thought to be poisoning their river homes. Deer, which have no natural predators in the UK, have increased in numbers too.
Fiona Mathews, chairwoman of the Mammal Society, warned however that the country is on a 'little bit of a precipice'.
'We have a few winners - the deer and carnivores - but if you look beyond them, it's difficult to see many native species that look like they're are doing well or increasing'.
We can all make some very simple changes in our gardens claims Ms Wilson, she said: 'At Hedgehog Street we offer lots of advice on how to create a happy home for a hedgehog. Small piles of logs or leaves and compost heaps, they all become great little insect factories which hedgehogs will love, just make sure there's a small hole in your fence so they can come and go'.